Sara Lucy Bagby was born in the early 1840s in Virginia. On October 3, 1860 Bagby fled from slavery in Wheeling. She eventually escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad and made her way to Cleveland, Ohio.
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the US during the early 1800s to help slaves escape into free states and Canada. It was run by abolitionists and others sympathetic to the cause of the escapees. Ohio had many stops on the Underground Railroad and since Canada was an ultimate destination, the short distance across Lake Erie from Cleveland to Canada made the city a popular destination. Cleveland was codenamed Hope on the Underground Railroad.
One of the stops was at what is called the Cozad-Bates House at the corner of Mayfield and East 115th Street, between Euclid and Little Italy. Restore Cleveland Hope operates the Underground Railroad Interpretive Center in the Cozad-Bates House, the only surviving pre-Civil War building in University Circle. They offer tours and events and it was here that we learned of the story of Sara Lucy Bagby.
The arrest of Sara Lucy Bagby in Cleveland on January 19, 1861 became a test case of the Fugitive Slave Act.
Wheeling resident John Goshorn and his son showed proof of ownership, and the federal court ordered her return to Virginia. Sara Lucy Bagby was the last person in the United States forced to return to slavery in the South under the Fugitive Slave Act.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Democrat Party of the US were both pro-slavery so despite the state government’s and citizens of Cleveland’s attempts to intervene, Lucy was transported back to Goshorn’s property in Wheeling, then still part of Virginia.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, Bagby eventually resettled in Cleveland, where she died in 1906 and was buried.
In this video, Kathryn Puckett, Restore Cleveland Hope Board Chair, tells the story of Sara Lucy Bagby.